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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: How Should Genesis 1:1 Be Translated?

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Don Stewart
How should Genesis 1:1 be translated? Should it read, In the beginning God created as most translations read, or should it be translated, When God began to create as other translations have read? What is the difference between the two? Are the differences important?

Technical Point Of Grammar

The debate is a technical matter of Hebrew grammar. Back as far as the Middle Ages, some Jewish scholars were arguing that verses one and two were not separate sentences but one sentence. Verse one, they argued, was to be translated, When God began to create.

Testimony Of Ancient Translations

Though the Hebrew can be read either way, all the ancient versions agreed with the traditional interpretation. This is a good clue on how the text should be understood. If all the ancient versions saw these verses as two complete sentences, it should give us an idea on how we should translate it.

Pre-Existent Earth

There is another problem with the translation, When God began to create. It assumes the earth was already there. The creation stories in the ancient world all began with pre-existent matter-only Genesis is different. Those who argue for this translation make Genesis merely another ancient creation story.

God Created Out Of Nothing

The biblical idea, that God created the universe out of nothing, is found in the Book of Genesis but it is more fully developed in the New Testament. It is implied in Genesis 1:1. If God made all that there is, He must have begun with nothing-the biblical account therefore takes us back to a time when only God existed.

Hebrew Word For Create

The Hebrew word bara (translated create) may imply creation out of nothing. The word can mean bringing into existence or initiating something new. In Scripture the word is only used with God as the subject (in the simple tense in Hebrew). Therefore the idea of creation out of nothing may be implied in Genesis 1:1.

Creator Of All

Scripture makes it clear that God created everything. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things (Ephesians 3:9).

The Book of Revelation says:

and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it, that there shall be delay no longer (Revelation 10:6).

John declared:

All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (John 1:3).

To the Colossians, Paul stated:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16,17).


Something must be eternal. Something had to be in the beginning-Scripture says it was God. Therefore the traditional translation of Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth is the one that best fits the facts.

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